What’s That Black Stuff on Your Forehead? What is Ash Wednesday?
I was talking with a coworker recently, and they told me where they used to live, there was not a big Catholic population. So, one time when they were in the city, they saw someone on the bus with a black smudge on their forehead. They thought, "Someone didn't look in the mirror this morning." But then they saw more and more people with the black smudges on their foreheads. They said it felt like it was getting weird, like they entered an episode of the Twilight Zone or something. That was until they remembered it was Ash Wednesday.
This Facebook post from 2017 that I found sums up what you'll see pretty well.
It Happens Every Year!
It happens every year; however, it still manages to catch people off guard. It's kind of like when Day Light Savings Time ends in November, and people complain about how dark it gets quickly, and how they can't get used to it. I should know, I am one of those people. I grew up Catholic, and even now a days, I'll forget that Ash Wednesday is coming up and get caught off guard when I see people with them.
When you start seeing people walking around with ashes on their head and those around you are getting confused, feel free to send them this article to refresh them on the annual feast day.
What is Ash Wednesday?
In Christianity, Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent, which is the six and a half week period (40 days, not including Sundays) leading up to Easter. Ash Wednesday is a solemn reminder of human mortality, and it is a mark of penance as Christians enter this repentant season. The 40-day period represents Christ's time of temptation in the wilderness, when he fasted while he was tempted by Satan. In Genesis 2:7, it says, "Ashes are equivalent to dust, and human flesh is composed of dust or clay." This sentiment is echoed as the priest or pastor anoints ones head with ashes, saying either "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return," or "Repent and believe in the Gospel."
In the modern Catholic Church, the ashes obtained by burning the palms used on the previous Palm Sunday (a day in celebration of Jesus' triumphant return to Jerusalem) are applied in the shape of cross on a person's forehead. Ash Wednesday, in addition to the following Friday's in Lent, is an obligatory day of fasting and abstinence, where only one full meal is allowed and one cannot have meat. Fish is allowed; however, which is why you often see so many fish specials throughout March and April. Another Lenten tradition is for people to give something up for Lent, or to vow to do something in the name of charity and goodwill.
Technically, Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation, it is one of the most heavily attended non-Sunday masses of the liturgical year.
So, when your friend has no idea what is going on, and thinks that a black rash on one's forehead is a new Covid symptom, send this article so they understand what is going on.